NEW YORK (26-Jan) -- Bronxville High School junior Mary Cain became the fastest-ever American prep miler indoors here today when she clocked a sensational 4:32.78 at the 18th New Balance Games at the Armory Track & Field Center in Upper Manhattan. Cain, 16, who is coached by three-time ING New York City Marathon winner Alberto Salazar, broke Debbie Heald's 41 year-old mark of 4:38.5 set in 1972, a time which was run while Richard Nixon was still in the White House and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the NBA's most valuable player.
"Going into it I was just like, stay relaxed and do your best and the time will come," an exuberant Cain told reporters after the race.
Cain, who wore an all-black Nike uniform and had a white ribbon flecked with blue and red diamonds holding her brown hair in a ponytail, went through the first quarter (440 yards) in a swift 67.3 seconds, two seconds behind pacemaker Ashley Higginson and leader Sarah Brown, the former Sarah Bowman. Running in the middle of the nine-woman field, Cain hit halfway in 2:16.7, letting the pace slip a little to a 69.4-second quarter. Cain said she wasn't in the ideal position, but that she worked through the situation.
"I was hoping to get kind of like on the inside, a pretty good space, but not right behind the rabbit," Cain explained. "I kind of struggled a little bit with that in this race, so I was probably more like out in lane-2 a bit. But I tried to stay calm; I didn't let that throw me off."
Higginson, who had run the one-mile steeplechase just minutes before, left the track at the halfway point, and Cain slowed a bit more in the third quarter to 71.3 seconds. But the sixth-place finisher from last summer's IAAF World Junior Championships at 1500m knew she had one of the best kicks in the field. She turned on the speed through the final quarter in 64.8 seconds, covering the last 200 meters in a very quick 31.2 seconds. She finished third, beaten only by Brown (4:31.61) and Canadian Olympian Nicole Sifuentes (4:31.65).
"Kind of when I fell back into the back of the pack (I knew) I still got a kick, so the last 200 I was just gunning it," said Cain, who talks as fast as she runs. She continued: "It's all up to the kick. I'm a kicker and that's what I do."
En route to her mile record, Cain was auto-timed at 1500m in 4:16.11, which broke Lynn Jennings's 1978 USA high school and junior record of 4:18.9. However, Cain fell slightly short of Darlene Beckford's American junior mile record of 4:32.30 set in 1980. She'll have another chance at that in the NYRR Wanamaker Mile at the Millrose Games on this same Armory track on February 16.
"I'm definitely excited," said Cain of breaking such an old record. "For me, I don't really think of the record beforehand. I don't want to get psyched out or freak out with it. So I just stay calm throughout the whole experience, then when you cross the line it's like, it's the record! That's the cherry on top for me."
Before Cain's record run, Craig Miller scored a runaway victory in the men's mile, clocking 3:56.90, his best-ever indoor time by nearly two seconds.
"Honestly, I didn't know where anybody else was behind me," Miller told Race Results Weekly after his four-second victory. "I looked back with 100 meters to go and I was like, holy **it, or shoot, there's no one there."
Robby Andrews, the 2011 NCAA 800-meter champion who was running just behind Miller in the early laps, faded badly in the second half and finished ninth in 4:11.13. "Not my day on the track," he wrote on his Twitter feed.
The meet also put on one-mile steeplechases for professional women and high school boys and girls. There were two barriers per lap (except for the first lap which only had one so that the race could get established). Higginson, pushed by Stephanie Garcia, put in the best performance of the event, running a smooth 4:48.11 to Garcia's 4:50.11. Her hurdling technique was excellent, and she only stutter-stepped before the final barrier.
"I don't know what to expect when you didn't do a rust-buster to see where your mile turns out," Higginson told Race Results Weekly. She continued: "I was very conscientious that last barrier; I was like, I'm going to walk if I have to."
In the high school miles, the top-2 finishers earned automatic berths for the high school miles at the Millrose Games. The girls' race turned into an exciting three-way battle between Kristiane Width, the daughter of a Finnish mother and a Norwegian father who attends the United Nations International School here; Sara Sargent of Pennsbury (Pennsylvania); and Regan Ward of Beggs High School (Oklahoma). Tall with a blonde ponytail, Width surged to the front at the bell, and went on to win comfortably in 4:58.40.
"I don't personally prefer the mile," said Width in perfect English. "I like the two-mile (where) you have the space, the time. I'm a slow thinker. But after the Millrose Trials I got boxed out and I placed fifth, so... I just went in there and did my thing."
Behind Width, Sargent and Ward battle for second, with Sargent passing Ward in the homestretch to get the second spot and the Millrose auto-qualifier in 4:58.75. However, Begg's time was also fast enough to allow her a berth in the Millrose field meet official Jack Pfeifer told Race Results Weekly.
Edward Cheserek of St. Benedict's Prep ran away from the field in the last quarter of the boy's race, winning more than six seconds in 4:10.94. Jack Huemmler of Strath Haven (Pennsylvania) got the second auto-qualifier in second (4:16.22).